07 June 2013

Spode and Fortunino Matania

Cover featuring Italian pattern, 1933
It is 80 years since, in 1933, the Spode company celebrated the bicentenary of the birth, in 1733, of their founder Josiah Spode I. Along with exhibitions and various bits of publicity it was an opportunity to use the occasion for marketing purposes. The Spode company was owned by the Copeland family at this time and was known as W. T. Copeland & Sons Ltd from 1932.

In 1932/1933 the company commissioned famous artist and illustrator Fortunino Matania to produce two pen and ink drawings for a new booklet The Hand of the Potter. Matania was known for his accurate portrayal of events as a war artist. According to the Green Howards Museum he would visit wounded men taking with him a box of toy soldiers so that they could re-enact a scene for him.

Later he was famous for his advertising illustrations and is thought to have worked for brands such as Ovaltine, Burberry and others including Spode. 

'First piece of bone china' (1990s booklet)
Two significant occasions in Spode's history were chosen to be illustrated by Matania. These were imagined scenes of real events but I am not convinced the company got the dates and events quite right. The detailed factory and family research, of Robert Copeland and Peter Roden in particular, was yet to come.

The two events chosen were the invention of bone china and the signing of the first partnership agreement between a Spode and a Copeland.

I first came across these images when they were still in use in marketing material in the mid-1990s. The description for the image for the bone china success was captioned then as probably the most significant development in the history of ceramics, Josiah Spode's first successful piece of bone china. This blurs the fact that there were 2 Josiah Spodes and, much as I love Spode, I think other pottery manufacturers might be slightly miffed at having their achievements ignored...

'Signing an agreement' (1962 catalogue)
The other image features in a 1962 catalogue for the German market where it is captioned Spode I and William Copeland partners anno 1785. I think the date is wrong and the Josiah Spode is wrong. William Copeland went to work for Josiah Spode II in the London business in about 1784. Copeland became a partner in 1805 with William Spode (Spode II's eldest son) not with Josiah Spode I. When William Spode retired, a wealthy young man, the partnership was dissolved and Josiah Spode II, now in Stoke, entered into a new partnership with Copeland, again for the London business in 1812. (Complicated as you can see and I hope I got it right. Well, not quite, see the next paragraph...)

Since writing this I recently found that these images were used again in a brochure produced by the company in 1975 (reprinted 1981). Meticulously researched by Robert Copeland, he has the captions correct, of course! It is captioned Josiah Spode II signs a deed of partnership with William Copeland and William Spode 1805. This is the partnership before the 1812 one which I mention above.

It is interesting to see the Spode company commissioning Matania, a well-known artist, to produce illustrations for their publicity and marketing. It also serves as a reminder that you can't always trust the text in catalogues and marketing literature.

These striking, original Matania drawings in pen and ink survive and are in the Spode archive. Whilst curator of the Spode Museum I found one of the drawings on the wall in a manager's office, negotiated to swap it for something more colourful and catalogued the original Matania into the museum's archive collection!

The bone china illustration is also used on leaflets and other sales and marketing literature from the 1930s as can be seen in the leaflet for Bermuda pattern introduced in about 1934. This pattern was printed in green and then hand coloured onglaze.

Leaflet for Bermuda pattern, 1935

You can see some of Matania's other work by clicking here.